Frey wins 2nd term as Minneapolis mayor after bitter race

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Christian Monterrosa

Mayor Jacob Frey gives a speech at the Jefe Urban Cocina restaurant on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021 in Minneapolis. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey risked his bid for a second term by opposing a push to replace the city's police department. Voters agreed with Frey on the policing question, but they left the mayor guessing until Wednesday about his own re-election..(AP Photo/Christian Monterrosa)

MINNEAPOLIS – Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was reelected to a second term, surviving a bitter challenge in a race that focused on calls for changes to policing and racial justice, elections officials announced Wednesday.

Seventeen candidates ran in the race, including many who took issue with the way Frey has handled changes to the police department since one of its officers killed George Floyd last year. Frey, a Democrat, risked his political future and drew the ire of the city’s most liberal voices by opposing a ballot question asking voters to eliminate the police department.

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Voters soundly defeated that ballot question on Tuesday but left Frey guessing until Wednesday about his own fate. Frey had 43% of the vote after the first count Tuesday night, which was more than double the support of his closest challengers but short of the more than 50% needed to win outright under the city’s ranked-choice voting system.

Frey told reporters he won by assembling a diverse coalition with support from across the city, and that the “backbone” of his support came from the heavily Black north side and from the Somali and Latino communities. He said he plans to roll out details in the coming weeks of a vision for public safety and police accountability.

“This is a moment of transformation in our city if we can actually come together, recognizing the magnitude of this particular moment," Frey said. "And the moment is bright. The bright lights of the national press and the world have been shining down on Minneapolis now for, gosh, about a year and a half. And what we are seeing right now is that Minneapolis is shining back even brighter. We are well poised for the progress that we need to see."

Frey was announced the winner after city officials allocated voters’ second- and third-place choices when their first choices were eliminated. The city said Frey won with 49.1%, or 70,669 votes, to runner-up Kate Knuth's 38.2%, or 55,007 votes.

Only a handful of candidates were thought to be serious threats to Frey, with two — Knuth and Sheila Nezhad — teaming up on a strategy that urged voters to leave Frey off their ballots entirely. The pair had the backing of U.S. Rep. llhan Omar.

Frey, a Democrat in a liberal-dominated city, faced sharp pressure from competitors on his left flank. Seventeen candidates had entered the race for mayor, including many who took issue with the way Frey has handled changes to the police department since George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis officer last year. Frey positioned himself as an opponent of an effort to eliminate the police department and of the most vocal liberals who were seeking a symbolic victory in Floyd’s city.

Voters soundly defeated the proposal to replace the department, with about 56% opposed. Four council members who backed elimination were ousted by challengers, including one who lost to a fellow supporter of the charter amendment. However, two candidates who backed the proposed overhaul won open seats.

Knuth, 40, is a former state representative and environmental justice activist. Nezhad, 33, is a community organizer who worked as a policy analyst for one of the leading groups out to eliminate the police department. Both women also supported rent control, another proposal on Tuesday’s ballot, in contrast to Frey’s general opposition.

Under the ranked-choice system, candidates with no chance to win after the first round of counting are eliminated. A voter who backed such an unsuccessful candidate would then have his or her second choice tabulated, presuming that candidate remained in the race. The process is repeated until a candidate is declared the winner.

Frey late Tuesday called it “a really good night” but stopped short of claiming victory. By remaining in office, he stands to benefit from voters' approval of another ballot question Tuesday — one that moves the city to a strong-mayor form of government. Critics have long said the city's weak-mayor system sometimes meant confusion over who has clear authority over city departments and staff.

Frey was the face of Minneapolis during some of its darkest days, including Floyd’s May 2020 death and the rioting that marred ensuing protests and led to the burning of a police precinct after Frey ordered officers to abandon it. Floyd’s death sparked the most widespread unrest in the U.S. since the Rodney King riots.

During the worst of the Minneapolis unrest, conservatives accused Frey of failing to stem the riots and crack down on soaring crime and gun violence. Meanwhile, the left criticized him for not doing enough to overhaul the police department.

Frey, a lawyer by training and a Virginia transplant, first won a City Council seat in 2013. He ascended to the mayor’s office in 2017 by ousting incumbent Betsy Hodges in a race also roiled by police accountability issues, including the 2015 shooting of Jamar Clark, a Black man, in a struggle with white officers and the 2017 shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a white woman, by a Black officer.

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